How frustrating is it when you have ideas on how to move your dream prospect out of Why Change? – but you cannot get past the Gatekeeper? Whatever excuses you hear, this person stands between you and the stakeholder you think is the right one to share your ideas with. You have tried every trick out of the book, and still, you are getting nowhere. I want to share with you a method that has helped me many times. It is a three-step method, easy to remember by the abbreviation A-R-E. I remembered it every time I needed to deal with a gatekeeper. I just thought “You ARE the gatekeeper. Fine, I am going to get past you”
The fundamental key to getting past gatekeepers is to acknowledge their reasons for protecting their bosses. Whatever these reasons are, true or false (my manager is busy, have no time, is out of the office, difficult to reach, other priorities) – the only way to get their attention is to make them the hero and give them a reason to take action. Here are the 3 steps: AVOID – RESPECT – ENABLE
A: Avoid conflict. The direct line manager of the gatekeeper is trusting this person to keep them from any distraction. By nature of their role, they are obliged to help their manager focus on what is important. This includes not having to deal with salespeople of suppliers their company is not working with. That’s you. Just acknowledging this and respecting the gatekeeper’s role will set you on the right track. The way you talk, your attitude, the way you ask questions is all very important here because you will need the gatekeeper to get to your stakeholder.
R: Respect their protection of time commitment. What you are really asking the gatekeeper is their commitment to spend five minutes of their time in exchange for the value that you have to offer. This is not about selling the value of your company, not at all. This is about value for them. In their view, you are actually asking for two commitments.
- Their own time commitment, speaking to you and understanding what you want
- The time you request to speak to their manager.
The gatekeeper will make a judgment on both very fast. When people are put in such situations they base their decision on the value you trade. The bigger that value is, the more likely they will listen. The biggest value you can trade here is to make them feel important. You make them part of something bigger than being the gatekeeper and the protector of time. What worked well for me was introducing myself, then who I was representing and saying:
“I know you use company X as your main supplier and one day I would like to have conversations with you and your managers about considering a change; however, I am not there yet. I need to do a lot more homework. Can I ask you a few questions? It will only take a couple of minutes.” – you include the gatekeeper with your challenge. Remember, friendliness is responded with friendliness, Unless they are very busy and their house is on fire, most likely they will grand you a few minutes. You are disarming the gate. If the gatekeeper is not granting you these few minutes, ask them when it is convenient to call back.
E: Enable them to open the gate This step is crucial. Like any employee, the gatekeeper is also part of the success of their company. Of all the phone calls they receive, they also consider what they believe deserves their boss ‘ attention. Your questions have to be about their business, not yours. During the preparation of your call, you must have created a theory of how you think you can help the prospect with the challenges they are facing. What challenges are they facing?
In the latest study by Gartner, 56% of CEOs have GROWTH as their top strategic business priority. So, you have more than a 50% chance that the gatekeeper’s CEO is also thinking about growth. Share in a simple sentence your theory of how your insight on growth will benefit their manager to know more about it. Again, do not try to sell your products or services. Instead, keep the statement about the insight and the possible impact on them. Include the gatekeeper with the question: “Do you think sharing more details of these insights is beneficial for the company?”. Make them part of something bigger; the success of their company.
Practice these steps a lot. You will get better and better. Be self-critical and see every “No” that you get as a learning experience and opportunity to do better at your next call.
Finally, realize, there are more gatekeepers than one. You may have to deal with the receptionist to get to the middle management level. But these managers also have a gatekeeping job. You may have to disarm many gates. Every time think and apply A-R-E. Practice, practice, practice. Good luck.
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